A thousand ways to say “no”

May 15, 2009

In the Bible in Matthew 5:37 Jesus said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Jesus taught that an individual must express himself clearly, without reservations. In general people prefer to use evasion to speaking the naked truth. To say “Yes” when one means “yes” and “No” meaning “No” leaves one naked and anxious. Most prefer to use an equivocating language or to say “white” lies to avoid telling the truth.

It is evident to me that when one tries to make a decision, big or small, there are thousands of ways of saying “No” and only one way of saying “Yes.” With a no answer sometimes one avoids or delays saying “no” by doing things that he knows are bad for him, but he cannot help himself, because these activities are addictive. Addictions take two forms: the things that are considered addictive like the excessive uses of alcohol, drugs, pornography or gambling and the normal things that are not thought to be addictive until a person cannot control his behavior: shopping, eating too much, spending too much, reading too much or spending too much time in front of the TV or the computer as a form of escape,.

To choose to run from a decision is to say “No” to what has been asked seems normal, and it is easier to offer excuses: “I am too busy” or “too upset” or “I have no time now.” Thus one avoids the dishonor or the shame of rejecting the offer. It doesn’t matter who is asking—a boss, a friend, a spouse or God, the choices are the same as is the desire to soften the rejection by not addressing it.

Sometimes a person will say “yes, but” which really means “no.” Any evasions or contingencies mean “no.” For example, if a friend offers a ticket to an event, but you answer that you’ll have to bring your son or someone else, you are saying “no” to the invitation. Imposing conditions on accepting the invitation means “no.” A “yes” means that you totally would like to come—with your heart and mind without reservations or conditions. To say “yes, but” means “no.”

On the other hand saying “yes” stands alone, no reservations and no conditions. “Yes, I want to do that.” “I’d love to go with you.” If only our “no” could be so simple: “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” Or “No, I am really not interested in that.” It is easier to understand in how parents respond to their children. Often the response of a mother or father to a request by their child is to say “we’ll see” instead of “no.” In these cases the parent is trying to avoid an argument or tantrum. The child continues to hope that what he wants is still possible, only to be disappointed later. The more a parent signals a clear “yes” or “no”, the less the child will argue about it, because he knows that the word of the parent will not change.

As Jesus asks in the text above, make your language clear: just say “Yes” or “No.” Then one stands transparently and with power. Everyone will know what is meant without having to guess. For the person who says simply “Yes” or “No”, the chains of equivocation are broken. No longer is one preoccupied with remembering lies and evasions, there is much relief. Try it one day and see what affect it has on your life. See how your spouse or friend reacts. And check out how you feel inside when you speak your intentions so clearly.

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